In healthcare, the physical environment matters to every Patient. If it is a distracting environment, you will have a ‘distracted Patient.’ Meaning, Patients notice all the little, big and subtle things happening in your practice when we arrive. The longer the Patient waits, usually means the more distracted and bothered by these things the Patient will become. Patient distractions have the potential to derail your message of health, prevention and wellness before you even enter the exam room.
By Michael Tetreault, Editor-in-Chief
To further unpack this discussion, we conducted a Patient survey which started in January of 2020 and we asked Patients in a random, national poll, “If Your Doctor Went Out of Business, How Much/Little Would You Care?”
- 49% said “Not At All. Glad They’re Gone. I Wanted A New One Anyway.”
- 41% said “It Would Be Inconvenient But I Didn’t Have A Relationship/Care Either Way With Physician.”
- Only 10% said “Call The Mayor! Save This Business! They Would Absolutely Be Missed! Don’t Let This Medical Office Close! We Have To Save It!”
To further illustrate, when you invited friends over to your house for an important conversation, do we not tidy up the place? Fold the blankets? Put the toys (if kids are around) away? Do we not remove every obstacle, seen or otherwise, that might impede or distract from [the message] and what you have to say to them?
Of course we do.
A Patients attention span in the exam room is directly correlated and determined by the quality of the environment(s) we’re presenting to them before they even enter the exam room.
Let’s look at the waiting room and lobby chairs.
If you sat in an office chair from the early 1990’s when you went somewhere, how would that make you feel?
If you sat on a brand new chair you hand-picked from a new furniture store … a chair that had a purpose, a design and a relationship with other elements in your practice — how would that make you feel?
Important questions. Seemingly insignificant details in a medical office, but each evoke a completely different emotion, right?
Well, your patients are thinking about these things, a lot.
Consider these facts from Vitals’ 9th annual Physician Wait Time Report:
- 1 in 5 patients say they have switched doctors because of long wait times.
- 30% of patients have left a doctor appointment because of a long wait.
- There’s a direct correlation between the amount of time a patient waits and a doctor’s star rating on the Vitals’ web site.
The report also noted something really quite unique … Patients do keep themselves busy while they wait. Some 44% of respondents said they look at their phone or another electronic device. But keep those magazine subscriptions current, as about 55% of patients said they browse through the publications in waiting rooms.
In summary, Patients notice the snacking that your staff is doing and crumbs falling onto their keyboard.
They pick up on how dusty the tables are in the corner and if the trash was taken out of the bathroom in the past few hours.
We wonder how sanitary those magazines are?
The question you maybe should be asking today is … How do they feel when they see or sit on that old lobby chair? How does the old door knob or handle on the entrance of your practice feel? Is it old and rattling or modern and does it feel solid.
Impressions matter. Feelings matter. They are very important. Believe it or not, these little things matter, a lot.
That said, the purpose isn’t to find perfection, but progress.
Patients understand we won’t ever experience the perfect Doctors office visit, but if my Doctor kept improving and improving and so on, I’d probably still be a Patient there.
A Medical Office Bathroom, True Story, circa Summer of 2019.
So just last year I visited a specialists office for an injury I suffered doing a hobby I really enjoyed. On more than once occasion I entered the restroom next to the Doctors office in the facilities hallway and to my surprise, an overflowing toilet. Not too mention, the soap dispenser was leaking and the paper towels were all over the floor. To make things worse, my wife went with me a few times as well and said “The female restroom is even worse than the one you described and used.”
Whether this is the clear responsibility of the building owner or the Doctors office closest to the bathrooms, these external environmental factors reflect on the decision makers who chose to lease their medical office in such a place. Not too mention, it kept happening on more than one visit and is clearly not getting addressed.
Should the tenant complain more? Yes, absolutely.
Are Patients disgusted by it. Yes, absolutely.
Will one call from your office manager resolve the issue? Probably not.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease in situations like this.
Some of the most unusual and yet, simple and incredibly easy things can be fixed.
Some won’t cost you a dime. Some require a phone call or two. Some could get done in a weekend!
Imagine my surprise when I bring it up to the Office Manager and yes, I’m that guy … I told my Doctor about it too.
Why? Because the response from the front office staff was mediocre. I could tell she had heard it before and wasn’t going to do something about it or make that awkward phone call to the landlord of the medical facility.
Why bother the Doctor with such things you ask?
Why not? It’s his/her livelihood at stake. One time is forgivable.
Small things can make dramatic and positive statements about you, your competence and the care you seek to deliver to your patients.
What we’re trying to draw your attention to as a great Physician in your community and as a respected leader among your Patients and colleagues is that your environment … your parking lot, your door handles, your toilet, your garbage cans and restrooms communicate something about you and the care we are about to receive.
That’s not fair, but it’s entirely true.
An unkempt restroom with an overflowing garbage can, food on the front desk, crumbs on the floor, or yes, even a silly Reserved For Dr. sign have the potential to derail your message of health, prevention and wellness before you even enter the exam room.
When Patients Arrive They First Pay Attention to Your People [eg Your Staff]. Second, Your Practice Environment and Design. They’ll internally ask themselves, ‘Is that chair free of germs?’ or ‘I hope the bathroom is clean.’ Finally, they’ll eventually pay attention [and hopefully listen] to you, their Doctor, Dead Last.
In what ways can you eliminate distractions to improve the overall Patient experience?
If you don’t see a problem, if you aren’t bothered by these things, maybe it’s time to make put someone around you who does see it and is bothered by it. A distracting environment can dissuade or prevent what important things you have to say to the Patient before the visit even begins. Therefore, the proper care and treatment of a Patient we believe in Concierge Medicine … begins in the parking lot.
“It takes between ten and thirty seconds after opening the door of your doctors office to know exactly how well your visit that day is going to go. Did the doctor greet you at the door? Was he/she busy and didn’t stop to greet you? Was the office manager or assistant smiling or in a constant state of frantic? If you are resigned to be treated poorly by your doctor and his/her staff … you have no one to blame but yourself. You can leave. You do have options. You might not think you have options … but you were the one that walked yourself through the door of the practice and you can just as easily turnaround and leave. Why is it that we have such high-standards when we go on vacation to a nice hotel … but yet when it comes to healthcare offices and healthcare delivery we suddenly accept rude and dismissive behavior from staff (and yes, physicians too!) and we lower our expectations and high standards of respect? Have you ever challenged your doctor to ‘wow’ you? Have you told them the smell is funny in here? Have you ever told your doctor [not the staff] that the sign on the door is peeling or the office carpet and furniture needs to be updated? Why aren’t we challenging our physicians to do better? Why do patients relegate themselves, their loved ones and friends to two and four hour visits filled with consternation and dismay?”
Unfortunately, the majority of healthcare environments today have created a perception in which physicians are unprepared to deliver great care. You never intended for your practice to be stagnant. Physicians today are left to overcome a lot. But what if today, you have the opportunity to show every patient that Clinic Design: Matters … you show them that they, matter.
Create a new perspective for your practice.
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